It’s so close: Don’t miss the life masks exhibit

Published 11:16 am Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Sharon McConnell-Dickerson may not play the blues, but blues masters were at her fingertips.

The rural Mississippian, an attendant on private planes through her late 20s, lost her eyesight to gradual illness in the 1990s and needed to find a new life path. She discovered it in sculpture.

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McConnell-Dickerson developed her art after uveitis robbed her of her sight. It became her passion in after-hours tours of the world’s great museum where, accompanied by docents and her guide dog, she was permitted to lay hands on the works of the great masters.

Once, at the Louvre, she ran her hands over Venus de Milo. She heard her dog’s paws on the floor of the great Parisian museum’s floors. The moment was joyous.

What she’d lost in vision she’d gained in touch. She could “memorize tactile experience.” And she could create things of beauty.

McConnell-Dickerson’s story, told in the current edition of Greater Port Arthur the Magazine, includes her time making “life masks.” More specifically, it included her work on life masks of great blues artists: Hubert Sumlin, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Joseph William “Pinetop” Perkins, Robert Lockwood, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Robert Lee “R.L.” Burnside, James Cotton, Bobby Rush, Ruth Brown, James “Little Milton” Campbell Jr., Willie King, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Koko Taylor, Othar “Otha” Taylor, Bo Diddley. There are dozens more.

McConnell-Dickerson said her work on the project was carried out over many years, mostly from 2000-2005, and she believes it was divinely inspired. “God uses people,” she said. “He puts them where they need to be.”

Where her work product has needed to be of late is in a gallery of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, in downtown Port Arthur, where 15 life masks adorn a single wall as part of the exhibit, “Cast of Blues.”

The exhibit opened June 16 but its time here is more than half done; the exhibit closes Aug. 11. If you don’t make it to the museum at 700 Procter St., well, we warned you.

Part of what makes the exhibit extraordinary is the composite resin with which the masks are presented. They enable — no, they encourage — patrons to place their hands on the heads and faces of the blues masters to appreciate them as the artist herself appreciated them.

McConnell-Dickerson’s commitment to the project encouraged her to move from Santa Fe, a cultural center, to tiny Como, Mississippi, where agriculture has declined but the blues have thrived. She’s made casts of several blues musicians there.

Among her subjects: Johnny Winter of Beaumont. She cast his hands in bronze; eventually, that too will be displayed at the museum.

Greater Port Arthur people would do well to visit this exhibit, but time is short. It’s as close as downtown, almost at your fingertips.